Improperly Placed IV Involved in Botched Oklahoma Execution

IV inserted improperly during execution

By Julia Cole, Price Benowitz Junior Editor

An autopsy report has revealed that the IV used in the execution of Clayton Lockett in Oklahoma last month was improperly inserted, according to the Washington Post. Lockett, who was convicted of murder and sentenced to the death penalty, writhed and groaned in pain on the gurney after the first lethal injection round was botched. The execution was halted and Lockett died 43 minutes after it had begun, presumably after suffering unspeakable fear and pain.

The horrifically fumbled execution, which we initially blogged about in May, reignited the heated nationwide debate over capital punishment and the methods used to carry out the death penalty.

Lockett’s execution, which took place on April 29, was the first in which the Oklahoma Department of Corrections (DOC) used a new cocktail of drugs to administer lethal injection. Initially, the drugs involved in Lockett’s execution were suspected of causing his obvious pain and discomfort. Now, an independent autopsy conducted by Joseph I. Cohen, a forensic pathologist who was hired by the defense attorneys of all inmates on death row in Oklahoma, has revealed that there was a problem with the placement of the IV rather than the drugs.

Cohen’s report noted extraordinary incompetence on the part of the execution team that was unrelated to the mixture of drugs used in the execution. He observed multiple skin punctures, which indicated that repeated attempts were made to place a needle in Lockett’s extremities and groin.

According to Robert Patton, the director of the Oklahoma DOC, the execution’s start time was initially delayed because the technician could not find a viable point of entry for the IV. The technician examined Lockett’s arms, legs, feet, and neck before ultimately inserting the IV in Lockett’s groin. After Lockett had been pronounced unconscious, he suddenly began to clench his teeth and struggle against the restraints holding him down to the gurney. The state’s official timeline of the incident indicated that a doctor examined the IV and determined that the blood vein had collapsed. However, Cohen’s autopsy revealed that Lockett’s veins had “excellent integrity.” The state’s autopsy results have not been released.

The state of Oklahoma has not carried out any executions since Lockett’s gruesome demise. Charles Warner, a convicted rapist and murderer, was scheduled to be executed by lethal injection the same day as Lockett but his execution was postponed following the botched procedure. Mary Fallin, the Oklahoma Governor, ordered a review of Lockett’s death as well as the state’s execution procedures and protocols.

If medical professionals and prison officials cannot be counted on to protect inmates from the cruel and unusual punishment of a poorly administered execution, then those convicted of crimes should not be subjected to capital punishment. The attorneys at Price Benowitz fight tirelessly to protect the rights of the accused, and this example of subjecting a fellow human being to extremely unnecessary and avoidable pain is just one of many reasons why we join all those who have called for the end of the death penalty in the United States.